Female Red-bellied WoodpeckerI had recently made an appointment to see a dermatologist to look at my aging, spotty face which seems to be growing barnacles. Though I had been referred by my primary care physician, the dermatologist could not see me until June of next year. So, yesterday, when the dermatologist's office called with a cancellation, I dropped everything and flew there like the witch on a broom my face says I've become. The good news is that I don't have anything malignant growing on my face, though my disposition could be said to be malignant. I do have a slew of patches that are pre-cancerous, however.
Six places needed to be blasted with liquid nitrogen. I had this done once before, which is why my physician sent me to the face expert. It hadn't been a big deal then, and time had faded my recall of the depth of the experience. Plus, my more current frame of reference for liquid nitrogen is cooking, not cancer treatment. The coolest, nouvelle cuisine chefs use "L2," as those in the know call it, when fashioning "amuse bouche" or mouth amusements. Fruits are flash frozen and soups carved into table ready, frozen sculptures when prepared with L2, also known as "dry ice." Ice cream freezes so quickly with L2 that the ice crystals are super small. When the ice cream hits the tongue, instead of melting, it evaporates filling the mouth with a blast of delightful, gaseous essence - amuse bouche!
I can tell you that when the L2 hit my face six times, I was not amused. And, from this Cupid's pucker of a sweet bouche rolled more than delightful, gaseous essence; I swore like a pirate! I come by the inclination to swear honestly. Both of my parents were quick to launch vulgarities of the most hair curling order and didn't hesitate to do so in front of us children. My father, with an undisguised hint of pride and peculiar affection, often said of my mother that she had "a mouth like a sewer rat." They reasoned that exposing us to world class profanity at home would render swearing a blase' form of communication. Our language choices, when wanting to impress upon someone the intensity of our feelings, would evolve more highly than to just jump quickly to profanity. They were wrong. I for one, love a good, choking mouthful of the F word in times of trouble, though I did withhold that in the doctor's office.
When I left, my face felt like I had walked face-first into a wasps' nest! Having thought that this wouldn't be a big deal, I had planned to meet my husband for lunch afterward and to do a dozen errands. I could have begged off dining in a public place with my beloved, but the errands had to be done, no matter what. Christmas is coming, whether my face looks like I took a load of bird shot or not. So, I sucked it up and went to lunch at a local diner. I held my head high and dared any customers or the waitresses whizzing by with plate loads of meatloaf and mashed to stare at my wrecked face. My prince of a husband treated me to a lobster roll, thanked me for taking care of myself and told me repeatedly that I was beautiful.
After lunch, I had nearly forgotten the whole thing by the time I got to my car. When I saw this Red-bellied woodpecker in the trees, my amuse bouche came back completely.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are no longer uncommon in Maine, though they used to be. Like Northern Cardinals and Mockingbirds, their population has crept northward over the past decade. Five or six years ago, a Red-bellied woodpecker reported in Maine was are rarity worth twitching, or chasing after to see. Then, in 2004, the most wide-spread invasion of Red-bellied woodpeckers ever recorded occurred in Maine, Upstate New York and Maritime Canada. So many of them were suddenly reported on the birding list serves that it was clear the sightings were not those of simply a few, fall migratory wanderers. Why the birds came this far north remains uncertain. Possibly, breeding had been so successful in the spring of 2004 that the first year birds expanded into northern, un-occupied spaces to set up new breeding territories. It may also be that a food source, like acorns, declined, forcing the birds to look elsewhere.
Red-bellied woodpeckers eat fruit and berries and insects. In the south, they hang on hummingbird feeders occasionally. In these photos, the bird had banged on the cracks in the maple tree several times. Their tongues extend two inches beyond the end of the bill. Twice, I saw her pull out the brown lumps you see here. I'm not sure what it was, but she liked it enough to try several times for more.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are about nine and half inches long, the size of a Hairy woodpecker. They have a rolling 'R' call and an undulating flight pattern, both very recognizable. The bird in these images is female. Her red head patch does not extend all the way to her bill. Males have a red patch from the nape of the neck to the bill. The "red belly," is an inconspicuous patch that's barely visible for field identification. So, why are they called "Red-bellied?" I'm guessing because "Red-headed" was a name already taken. We get Red-headed woodpeckers here, but they are very rare. A siting would be twitch-worthy. Maybe next year, Red-headed woodpeckers will be as common here as Red-bellied woodpeckers have recently become. And perhaps by then, my bee-stung looking face will have calmed down enough that no one will notice that anymore, either.
Fellow birder, Don Reimer has an article on Red-bellied woodpeckers in a local paper. If you want more detail about these beautiful birds, click here: Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1939)